On the shortlist of dream tools for most metalworkers is a waterjet cutter, a CNC tool that uses insanely high-pressure water mixed with abrasive grit to blast sheet metal into intricate shapes. On exactly nobody’s list is this attachment that turns a waterjet cutter into a lathe, and with good reason, as we’ll see.
This one comes to us by way of the Waterjet Channel, because of course there’s a channel dedicated to waterjet cutting. The idea is a riff on fixtures that allow a waterjet cutter (or a plasma cutter) to be used on tubes and other round stock. This fixture was thrown together from scrap and uses an electric drill to rotate a wood blank between centers on the bed of the waterjet, with the goal of carving a baseball bat by rotating the blank while the waterjet carves out the profile.
The first attempt, using an entirely inappropriate but easily cut blank of cedar, wasn’t great. The force of the water hitting the wood was enough to stall the drill; the remedy was to hog out as much material as possible from the blank before spinning up for the finish cut. That worked well enough to commit to an ash bat blank, which was much harder to cut but still worked well enough to make a decent bat.
Of course it makes zero sense to use a machine tool costing multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars to machine baseball bats, but it was a fun exercise. And it only shows how far we’ve come with lathes since the 18th-century frontier’s foot-powered version of the Queen of the Machine Shop.
We’ve seen quite a few scratch built lathes here at Hackaday, but none quite like the handcrafted pole lathe put together by [Jon Townsend] and his band of Merry Men as part of their effort to build a period-accurate 18th century log cabin homestead. With the exception of a few metal spikes here and there, everything is made out of lumber harvested from the forest around them.
The lathe is designed to be a permanent structure on the homestead, with two poles driven into the ground to serve as legs. Two rails, made of a split log, are then mounted between them. The movable components of the lathe, known as “puppets” in the parlance of the day, are cut so they fit tightly between the rails but can still be moved back and forth depending on the size of the work piece. With two metal spikes serving as a spindle, the log to be turned down is inserted between the puppets, and wedges are used to lock everything in place.
So that’s the easy part. But how do you spin it? The operator uses a foot pedal attached to a piece of rope that’s been wound around the log and attached to a slender pole cantilevered out over the lathe. By adjusting the length and angle of this pole, the user can set the amount of force it takes to depress the pedal. When the pedal is pushed down the log will spin one way, and when the pole pulls the pedal back up, it will spin the other.
Since the tools only cut in one direction, the user has to keep letting the pressure off when the log spins back around. The fact that the work piece isn’t continuously rotating in the same direction makes this very slow going, but of course, everything was just a bit slower back in the 18th century.
It’s hard not to be a little intimidated by the squeaks and whirs that come with your first journey into a machine shop. Here, skilled machinists pilot giant hunks of cast iron that turn metals into piles of chips to yield beautiful parts. But what if machine tools themselves didn’t have to seem so scary. What if using them could feel a bit more intuitive, even, dare we say, natural from the get-go?
Enter Turn by Wire, a unique set of force feedback and machine control concepts applied to a lathe brought to you by researchers [Rundong Tian], [Vedant Saran], [Mareike Kritzler], [Florian Michahelles], and [Eric Paulos] at Berkelely.
Turn by Wire vastly reimagines the relationship between a user’s control inputs and the machine outputs in two ways: (1) by changing the mapping between the hand cranks and machine movements and (2) by changing the haptic feedback felt by the machinist. Since both of these interactions can be defined programmatically, the researchers created three unique ways of interacting with the lathe. First, by defining a tool path in the graphic user interface (GUI), the machinist can use a single hand crank to step forward and back in time along that toolpath. Second, by applying virtual guidelines in the GUI, both the machine and the hand cranks will physically snap to the guide lines when they are sufficiently close. Finally, the hand cranks can be used to teach the machinist a technique by adding resistive forces into the hand cranks depending on movement while a machinist is stepping through a process like peck drilling.
This is a great example of [Tom Knight’s] “just wrap a computer around it!” as mentioned by [Bunnie Huang] when we featured the IQ Motor Modules. It’s a powerful example of how putting a computer between the controls and the machine can correct for real world imperfections, be they in the mechanics of the machine of the operator. For the curious, have a look at [Rundong’s] paper published at UIST and [Vedant’s] master’s thesis.
For any sort of precision machine, precision adjustability is required. For the hacker this usually involves an adjustment screw, where the accuracy is determined by the thread pitch. This was not good enough for [Mark Rehorst] who wanted adjustment down to 10 μm for his 3D printer’s optical end-stop, so he made himself a differential adjustment screw.
Differential screws work by having two threads with a slightly different pitch on the same shaft. A nut on each section of thread is prevented from rotating in relation to the other, and when the screw is turned their relative position will change only as much as the difference between the two thread pitches.
The differential screw in this case started life as a normal M5 bolt with a 0.8 mm thread pitch. [Mark] machined and threaded section of the bolt down to a M4 x 0.7 mm thread. This means he can get 0.1 mm (100 μm) of adjustment per full rotation. By turning the bolt 1/10 rotation, the relative movement comes down to 10 μm.
This mechanism is not new, originating from at least 1817. If you need fine adjustments on a budget, it’s a very elegant way to achieve it and you don’t even need a lathe to make your own. You can partially drill and tap a coupling nut, or make a 3D printed adapter to connect two bolts.
As a work of art, solenoid engines are an impressive display of electromagnetics in action. There is limited practical use for them though, so usually they are relegated to that realm and remain display pieces. This one from [Emiel] certainly looks like a work of art, too. It has eight solenoids, mimicking the look and internal workings of a traditional V8.
There’s a lot that has to go on to coordinate this many cylinders. Like an internal combustion engine, it takes precise timing in order to make sure that the “pistons” trigger in the correct order without interfering with each other through the shared driveshaft. For that, [Emiel] built two different circuit boards, one to control the firing of each solenoid and another to give positional feedback for the shaft. That’s all put inside a CNC-machined engine block, complete with custom-built connecting rods and shafts.
If you think this looks familiar, it’s because [Emiel] has become somewhat of an expert in the solenoid engine realm. He started off with a how-to for a single piston engine, then stepped it up with a V4 design after that. That leaves us wondering how many pistons the next design will have. Perhaps a solenoid version of the Volkswagen W12?
No matter what you think about Nixie tubes, you’ve got to admit that having a Nixie custom made for you would be pretty cool. The cost of such a vanity project is probably prohibitive, but our friends at Keysight managed to convince none other than [Dalibor Farný] to immortalize their logo in glass, metal, and neon, and the results are beautiful.
Nixie aficionados and lovers of fine craftsmanship will no doubt be familiar with [Dalibor]’s high-end, hand-built Nixie tubes, the creation of which we’ve covered before. He’s carved out a niche in this limited market by turning the quality far above what you can find on the surplus Nixie market, and his custom tubes grace sleek, distinctive clocks that really make a statement. Bespoke tubes are not a normal offering, but he decided to tackle the build because it gave him a chance to experiment with new methods and materials. Chief among these are the mesh cathodes seen in the video below. Most Nixies have thin cathodes for each character cut from solid sheet metal. The elements of the Keysight logo were skeletonized, with a solid border and a hexagonal mesh infill. We’d have loved to see the process used to create those pieces — laser cutting, perhaps?
The bulk of the video is watching the painstaking assembly process, which centers around the glassblower’s lathe. It’s fascinating to watch, and the finished, somewhat out-sized tube is a work of art, although part of the display seems a little dark. Even though, [Dalibor] needs to be careful — plenty of outfits would love to see their logo Nixie-fied. Wouldn’t a Jolly Wrencher tube look amazing?
Another day, another video that seriously makes us doubt whether eschewing the purchase of a lathe in favor of feeding the family is a value proposition. This time, [Maker B] shows us what the queen of machine tools can do by turning a couple of bolts into a miniature safe.
We’ll state right up front that this build doesn’t source all its material from a single bolt. It’s more like two bolts and a few odd pieces of brass, but that doesn’t detract from the final product one bit. [Maker B] relieves the two chunky stainless steel bolts of their hex heads and their threads on the lathe, forming two nesting cylinders with a satisfyingly tight fit. A brass bar is machined into a key that fits between slots cut in the nesting cylinders, while discs of brass form the combination dials. Each disc is stamped around its circumference with the 26 letters of the alphabet; we thought the jig used for stamping was exceptionally clever, and resulted in neat impressions. The combination, which is set by placing a pin next to a letter in each disc, protects the admittedly limited contents of the tiny safe, but functionality is hardly the point. This is all about craftsmanship and machining skills, and we love it.